In Which Questions Are Asked…
“Move outta the way,” yelled Tommy at the top of his lungs, to the crowded street before him.
A few tourists and shoppers looked over at the cry, and even less paid attention to the man running full pelt between them. That is, until he clipped one, shoulder first, sending her spilling. The air behind him filled with curses, but he ignored them, focussing intently on his target. He ran on, passed shops and shoppers, dodging around garbage bins and bus stop signs.
“Don’t let him get away,” ordered Monika from a little way back down the street, her panting voice coming over the ear piece. Tommy bit back a retort, zigzagging passed more bag-laden people.
A couple, pushing a pram before them, stepped into his direct path, and Tommy took a half step to one side, dodging around them and ploughing right into someone else; the leaflets the man held going flying into the air and spilling into onto the pavement and out into the road. Tommy stumbled, his weight pitching forward, and he managed another half dozen steps himself before he crashed face first onto the concrete. A few civilians around him started to applaud and cheer his tumble.
“Fuck,” muttered Tommy, as he hauled himself to his feet. He could already feel the scuffs on his knees, his elbows, his chin and the soft sides of his hands, and knew they were probably bleeding from a half dozen scrapes, but started his pursuit again. Ahead, his quarry had eaten another dozen paces lead.
Damn, he’s fast for a little guy, thought Tommy. Those chubby legs scurry, but he can move like Speedy Gonzales.
Before him, the street was suddenly blocked by milling people, waiting for the lights to change to the little green man and let them cross. The merchant was already across on the other side, casting an eye over his shoulder to see where his pursuers were. “Out of the way,” Tommy yelled again. Nobody moved. He screeched to a stop behind the masses, looking left and right for a way through.
To his right, feet pounding atop the double yellow lines on the road and painfully close to a black taxi, went Monika. Her mousy hair streamed back loose behind her.
“D.S.I,” she shouted. “Move outta the way!” She leapt up, planting a hand on an oncoming car bonnet and vaulting over it, landing on the other side and running on without even breaking her stride.
Tommy gave a low whistle of appreciation, before slipped passed the waiting crowd, into the crossing roadway. A horn blared menacingly at him, the red Volkswagen inches from his leg when its brakes finally stopped it. Tommy threw his hands up at it, gesturing the driver to stay where he was, before he crossed to the other side, closing on Monika.
Suddenly, she hauled herself to a halt, looking up and down the street, her jaw set with frustration. Tommy pulled up next to her, panting and gulping for air. This is what so much time off’ll get ya, he thought. You’re outta shape already. He threw a confused look her way, but she pressed a finger to her ear instead.
“You got eyes on, Zeke?” she said, seemingly to the air.
“I lost him,” came the reply over the ear piece. “Let me just— okay, I’ve hacked into the traffic cams; I got him. Take the next left at the lights.”
Even as the words finished, Monika was off and running again, Tommy at her heels. The corner neared in a dozen paces, again with a thick wall of patiently-waiting pedestrians, and they darted to the left. Within seconds, they made their target out in the crowd, trying to slink into a doorway and be unobtrusive. His eyes opened wide upon seeing them, and he gave a little squeak, before turning on his heels and rushing into the depths of the clothing store.
As he crossed the threshold Tommy shouted, “He’s mine,” over the pulsing pop music, increasing his pace and pulling away from Monika. He launched himself forward, colliding with the man’s back, arms going around his waist, and together they tumbled, huffing and puffing, into the carpet, sending racks of jeans and shirts spilling. There was a moment’s rolling through the strewn clothing, before Tommy got a grip of the merchant’s wrists, pinning him to the ground.
A half second later, Monika was there, her SIG drawn and aimed at the prone and wheezing man. “I told you not to run,” she said.
“I want a lawyer,” said Marco Alvarez, to nobody in particular. Well, more accurately, he said it to the large mirror that dominated one wall of the white wall room. It dominated the whole room too; the only other furniture present was a simple wooden table, and two hard backed chairs. Alvarez currently occupied one of the chairs. Above him, a bare bulb burned brightly, “I know my rights, ya know?”
Tommy watched the man through the two-way mirror. Alvarez was a short, grubby looking man, with dark brown hair with an almost embarrassing comb-over. He had a gold capped tooth, to go alongside the thick golden chain around his neck and the myriad gold rings on his fingers. After a moment, the door behind Tommy opened, and Zeke entered the darkened observation room. “Anything interesting?” asked the big Ca’Tnack.
“Not yet,” Tommy replied. “Just the same stuff he was doing earlier; asking for a lawyer, protesting his innocence. Guy doesn’t even know what we want to talk to him about, and he’s protesting his innocence.”
“People tend to do that,” said Zeke. “Coffee?”
“Cheers,” Tommy replied, taking the hot Styrofoam cup. “So, I gotta ask. While we were chasing this guy down, Agent Wells shouted something a few times. DSI. What’s that all about?”
“Oh that,” said Zeke, sipping his own drink. “It stands for Department of Special Investigations. It’s just another cover we have. See, sometimes we use Animal Control for our investigations or to hide what something is. But if we need to be publically arresting people, especially in an area built up with Muggles, we tend to announce ourselves as DSI. We could use M.I.16, but then there’d be all sorts of nasty questions about how we were supposed to be disbanded half a century ago.”
“Lies on top of lies.”
“Inside a chocolaty enigma centre, indeed. It’s just easier this way.”
Tommy nodded. “So,” he began after a moment, “the whole thing is just one big secret. I guess I should have known, what with the non-disclosure I needed to sign. Do your folks know what it is you do?”
Zeke didn’t reply at first, instead watching as Marco scratched at the side of his nose. “M.I.16 doesn’t keep its existence a secret from other races.”
Tommy nodded. It wasn’t an answer, but it was clear he wasn’t going to get any more, and he didn’t want to push his new friend.
“We’re up,” said Zeke after a moment, as the solitary door to the interrogation room opened, and Monika made her way in.
She walked confidently to the opposite side of the table, back to the mirror, but didn’t sit. Instead, she tossed a thin manila file onto the desk before Alvarez.
“Why’s it so hot in here?” the man said. “Ya know how long I’ve been waiting, in this sweatbox? I’ve got half a mind to sue you for unsafe conditions. I’ve got a heart problem, ya know? I could keel over at any minute.”
“Your heart seemed healthy enough as you were running away from us, Mr. Alvarez,” said Monika. Her voice was steady, devoid of any emotion.
“Hey, I didn’t know what yous guys were, ya know? DSI, ain’t never heard of that, ya know?”
“You know exactly who we are,” replied Monika. “And what it is we do.”
“I don’t know nothing. I’m just an honest shop keeper. And you come into my store, harassing me, ya know? I want a lawyer.”
“You’re not going to get one. Instead, you’re going to answer my questions. If you do that, if I like the answers you give me, we’ll let you go. If not—“ Monika left the threat hanging in the air.
If not, what? thought Tommy. The question, however, didn’t seem to occur to Alvarez, and he paled visibly.
He licked his lips. “I can’t help you,” he said after a moment. “I’m just a shop keeper.”
“You don’t even know what it is we want,” said Monika. Even though her back was to them, Tommy could imagine a cool smile on her lips. “You see, here’s what we know about you, Mr. Alvarez; you are a shop keeper, that’s true. A merchant. But the things you sell, well— You probably can’t pick them up on eBay. Unless eBay was a black market.”
“Black— Like, guns and stuff?” said Marco. There was the fresh light of hope in his eyes; the man clearly thought his questioners were after something else entirely.
Monika shook her head. “Not weapons, Mr. Alvarez, no. Items for potions, magical charms, dark and dangerous spells and parchments.”
“I, uh—“ Alvarez gulped. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a shop keeper, ya know?”
Monika sat down, finally flipping open the folder, and spreading a pile of pictures in front of Alvarez.
“While you were here, in this sweatbox, my team were carrying out a full inventory of your shop. Yes, even the little section in back that you have magically hidden and warded.”
The colour drained even more from Alvarez’s face.
Monika continued; “Some of these items— Well, let’s just say, that having this one, the Stone of Anathium, is worth at least two years imprisonment just for its possession. That’s not even counting the fatal curse carried by whoever holds it outside the Sacred Circle in Tehran.”
“What?!?” blurted Alvarez. “Those—those things aren’t mine. I’m just holding them, ya know? For a friend?”
“A good ninety percent of what we took from your store are illegal artefacts. That’s a hell of a lot of jail time you’re looking at. The rest of your very, very short life in fact.”
“Man,” breathed Tommy to Zeke. “She’s pretty scary at times.”
“You’re telling me,” replied Zeke.
Alvarez started to stutter; “But, but—“
“Relax, Mr. Alvarez,” said Monika, reaching out and resting her hand on Marco’s forearm, reassuringly. “We can reach an arrangement, and our mages can ensure the curse doesn’t affect you. But, we need you to do something for us.”
“I—“ began Alvarez. But then his will seemed to leech from him. “What do you need?” he asked finally.
“Information is all,” said Monika. “Some items were probably up for sale recently, or maybe even inquired about. We want to know who was looking for them.”
She handed him a list. The man quickly scanned it, eyes widening in shock. “I don’t know about this,” he said shortly. “This stuff is— I don’t—“
“Mr. Alvarez,” said Monika, voice stern, “We can also add accessory to murder, in at least four counts.”
“Murder?” spluttered the man.
“These parts were taken from living people, Mr. Alvarez. Living people. And unless you tell me what I want to know, you’re going to be staring at the same wall of a five-by-ten jail cell while the curse slowly eats you from the inside.”
“No way. I had nothing to do with this.” Alvarez’s whole demeanour had shifted, before he had appeared weaselly, but now was simply and plainly outraged. “I may not be a model citizen, ya know, but nothing I sold ever hurt nobody. And I ain’t never had anything to do with anyone who’d kill another person, ya know? No matter what species they are.”
Monika stared at the man for long seconds; from his angle, watching through the security camera, Tommy could see she was weighing the man up.
Then, with a sigh, she rose. “I believe you,” she said as she headed towards the door.
“Hey,” came Alvarez’s strangled cry as she reached for the handle. “What about the curse? You need to get one of your guys in to remove it, ya know?”
“What curse?” said Monika simply, as she closed the door behind her.
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